WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The latest strain of COVID-19 has spread through the nation faster than any previous variant of the coronavirus.
White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci even said Tuesday that just about everyone in the U.S. will likely be exposed to the omicron variant at some point in the near future.
A report released last week by the University of Florida said that an estimated 80 percent of Florida residents could contract COVID-19 after the latest wave of infections from omicron.
Because of the highly contagious nature of omicron, there is a growing faction of people who believe it might be prudent to simply seek to catch the virus on purpose.
However, most health experts are speaking out against the strategy for a variety of reasons.
1. It's Still A Deadly Disease
"You'd be crazy to try to get infected with this. It's like playing with dynamite," Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recently told CNN.
Despite most health experts agreeing that the omicron strain not being as lethal as the delta variant, it is still a life-threatening disease.
"People are talking about omicron like it's a bad cold. It is not a bad cold," Murphy told CNN.
Doctors continue to stress that people without any underlying health conditions can still get severely ill after contracting omicron.
2. COVID Can Still Have Long-Term Effects
Since the first strain of the virus was detected in the U.S. almost two years ago, there have been cases called "long-haul COVID."
The World Health Organization defines long-COVID as having symptoms more than months after initial infection.
People have experienced a debilitating array of symptoms long after contracting the virus that includes a loss of taste, smell, brain fog, dizziness and fever and trouble sleeping.
Because of the potential long-term impacts of the virus, this is one of the reasons that doctors advise not to actively try to contract the disease.
"Long-COVID is something that's many times overlooked and not discussed," Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. "People are focusing on things like deaths or potentially hospitalizations, and so many people tend to forget there is a significant percentage of people who are suffering from long COVID."
Lee said it could be the spring before we fully understand the impact of omicron and if it has the potential to cause long-haul symptoms like previous strains.
3. We Don't Want To Overwhelm the Health Care System
While most people may not develop symptoms that require hospitalization, there will still be people that will require care from nurses and doctors.
"You're going to keep the pandemic going and stress the health care system [if people actively try to catch COVID-19]," Murphy said in the CNN report.
Hospitalizations are nearing record levels across the country. Fauci said Tuesday that while omicron more than likely causes less severe disease than past strains, the number of cases it's causing is leading some health systems to be overrun.
"Unfortunately, those who are still unvaccinated are going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this, and although it is less severe on a case by case basis, when you quantitatively have so many people who are infected, a fraction of them, even if it's a small fraction, are going to get seriously ill and are going to die, and that's the reason why it will challenge our health system," Fauci said.
The NBC affiliate in Chicago reported Thursday that less than 10 percent of ICU beds are available in Illinois after COVID hospitalizations hit record levels this month.
4. This Isn't Chicken Pox
In the past, parents would have so-called "chicken pox parties" to intentionally expose their unvaccinated children to the disease.
However, doctors say a similar strategy for COVID-19 is not rational since it's more deadly and people can still catch it more than once, unlike chicken pox.
"The big difference between a chicken-pox party and getting omicron on purpose is people are still dying from omicron," infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong told the ABC affiliate in San Francisco. "We're still recording over 1,000 deaths per day."
5. Chances Of New Strain Increase As Case Levels Rise
Doctors remind people that the more the virus spreads, the better chance for another variant after omicron to develop.
"The more we have a grasp on control of the number of transmissions, the better it is, not just for yourself, but for all of us," Chin-Hong said.
Doctors continue to reiterate that the best strategy to defeat the pandemic is for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and reduce the transmission of the virus as much as possible.
The University of Florida study released this month that the omicron wave could peak as early as the middle of January, emphasizing people to continue to avoid contracting the virus as much as possible to reduce cases.